In the world of runners, running injuries are the dark lords that they have to fight with almost every day. Be it a severe hamstring strain or a shooting calf cramp, runners and running injuries are inseparable- not a very appreciative kinship but definitely unavoidable. And IT band syndrome is just another injury which can be treated with IT band stretches.
Before we jump into treating this inevitable running injury, let’s take a step back and understand what IT band syndrome is. This will surely help you in the prognosis of the condition so, keep reading!
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IT band syndrome
The IT (iliotibial) band syndrome is an overuse injury of the long connective tissue, running along the outer edge of the thigh, starting just below the pelvis and ending at the shin. The sharp, gnawing pain is felt on the side of the knee.
The painful condition arises when the iliotibial band shortens, making it tight and inflamed. Now, the IT band is attached to the knee and thus it supports and helps in knee movement. Hence, when this connective tissue is damaged, it hinders proper knee movement and therefore causes pain while walking or running.
Since the leg is intensively used in the running sport, it endures a lot of abuses. With each stride, the impact hits the foot to run all the way up through the leg. And one wrong turn can twist any muscle or ligament, even the most minute one to get you down with pain and discomfort for a long period of time.
Athletes like runners, cyclists, soccer and basketball players and hikers or trekkers are potential at a higher risk of experiencing this icy- And in the absence of proper treatment and complete recovery, a running injury can worsen leading to a life-long damage.
Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome
The most common symptom IT band syndrome is inflammation and pain on the outside of the knee. And since it is a common injury alert, most runners and athletes misread it as a knee injury. Although you do feel the pain around the knee section, it is actually the band along the outer side of the thigh that needs immediate attention.
When we flex our knee, the IT band resides behind the femoral epicondyle, a bony outcropping of the femur or thighbone at the knee joint. When the knee is extended, this IT band moves forward across the condyle. A sac or bursa helps the band to glide smoothly across the condyle. In case of an inflammation in this area, the transference of the IT band faces resistance.
During runs or cycling, there’s an increased friction from repeatedly rubbing the iliotibial band across the bony condyle, causing pain, especially along the outer (lateral) aspect of the knee joint.
Gradually the pain spread across the knee, extends behind the knee or down the outer calf. You may also sense pain in the outer hip or thigh and occasionally a popping or snapping sensation could also be felt with knee movement. With increased intensity in the pain, the injured tissue swells in the area where the band moves over the femur bone.
IT Band Stretches for Recovery
Everything inside our body is connected with one another- muscles to bone, tendons to ligaments. When a muscle body is weak or stiff, the surrounding musculature adapts to pick up the slack. These compensation patterns lead to muscular imbalance and misalignment issues.
Our point being, it is only critical to stretch the IT band but address the surrounding muscles too. Muscles irregularity and tightness can be easily iron out with the appropriate yoga postures and stretches.
However, before spreading out the yoga mat and starting your asanas, we would suggest confirming to the RICE method.
R- rest optimally, allow your body to heal itself before you help externally.
I-ice application on the injured area should help minimize the inflammation.
C-compression with a bandage wrap will further inhibit potential swelling.
E-elevated position for the injured leg is recommended. The elevated position must be above your heart level.
Yoga for IT Band Stretches
When the pain subsides to a bearable magnitude, start doing your yoga stretches. Our muscles or tissues become stiff or tight due to lack of flexibility. These yoga poses will help you stretch the IT band and bring relief by releasing tension in the iliotibial (IT) band and the associated parts- hip, knee and outer thigh.
1. Low Lunge and Half Monkey
Stand straight, slowly some to a low lunge with your right leg forward. Keep the knee of the left leg straight and do not push the front knee forward, over the ankle. Hold the stance for 5-10 breaths. Stretch your hip flexors in this position.
Now slowly transcend into the half monkey position on the hamstrings. In this posture, keep the front foot flexed to increase the stretch in your hamstring and calves. Hold this posture for 5-10 breaths before releasing it. Be careful not to strain your lower back.
2. Low Lunge with Sidebend
Assume the low lunge posture with the left leg forward. Lift the hips up and back so that they are over the knee on the ground. Keeping the back straight, place left hand on the left thigh and extend the right-hand overhead and to the left. Stretch to feel a pull in the outer hip of the right leg. Hold the posture for 5-10 breaths before switching sides.
3. Low Lunge with Quad Stretch
Take the low lunge position on the left leg. To maintain balance, keep the right hand on the ground. Now try to grab the foot of the right leg and fold it inwards. As you do so, the quadriceps are stretch along with the IT band. Avoid collapsing your bottom shoulder.
4. Pigeon Pose
Begin with the downward dog posture with knees right below your hips and hands slightly ahead of the shoulders. Now, raise your left leg up and away from the body and swiftly slide it forward to the back of the left wrist. Position the left shin under the torso and bring the left foot to the front of the right knee, behind your right hand. Stay in the position with your hands resting on the mat or walk both the hands out in front of you, allowing your torso to rest over the left knee. Stretch and hold for 5-10 breaths before releasing. Perform on the other side as well.
5. Seated Spinal Twist
Sit on the mat with both the legs extended in front of you. Cross your right leg over the left leg and pull it towards your body. Keeping the left knee straight, grab the right leg by the knee and hold it. Simultaneously, twist your upper body outwards (towards the right side). Stretch as far as possible and hold for 5-10 breaths.
6. Double Pigeon Pose
Begin seated in the butterfly pose. Bring your right shin on top of the left shin so that both of them are parallel, your left knee should be over your left ankle. To make sure you are doing it right, look down. If your legs make a little triangle then you are proceeding correctly. Keeping the back straight, hold the posture for 5-10 breaths.
7. Wind-Relieving Pose
Start by lying on your back on the mat, keep your arms and legs extended. As you exhale, both the knees to your chest and hold them with both the hands. Now let go of the right leg and extend it straight along the ground. Hold the stance for 5-10 breaths before switching sides. After performing the exercise on both sides, draw both the knees to the chest again and release them together with an exhalation.
8. Dead Pigeon
Lie down on your back with both the knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift and rest your right ankle on your left knee. Thread your right hand through the triangle between your legs to hold the back of your left thigh with both hands. Now, gently pull your left leg towards the chest. Do not stress your neck or shoulder. Hold the posture for 5-10 breaths. Release slowly and perform on the other side. To increase the stretch in your outer hip, press your left elbow against your inner thigh.
9. Twisted Triangle
Stand straight with both the legs spread at a shoulder width distance, let the hands dangle at your sides. Turn your right toes out at 90 degrees so that the toes are pointing at the top of the mat. Slowly pivot your left foot inward at a 45 degree and simultaneously hold fold at hips. Place your right hand down on the mat about a foot away from your right foot. Extend your chest forward as you lean into your right hand. Reach your left arm as you twist your spine (not the shoulders) and press down through your left big toe. Hold for 5-10 breaths before releasing. Perform on the other side too.
10. Reclined Cow Face Pose
Lie down on your back with legs extended in front of you. Slowly draw both the legs towards your chest. Cross your right leg over the left to stack the right knee on top of the left knee. Grab the feet and draw them to your chest. This will bring your legs in for a stretch. In case you cannot reach your feet, grab your ankles or shins to do this posture. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. Release and repeat with the left on top of the right.
If the pain stays after all the stretching exercise, consult a doctor immediately.
Dangers of over-stretching the IT band
It is really important to know that the iliotibial (IT) band is a thick, dense band of connective tissue with minimum elasticity. As a result, the IT band doesn’t respond to stretching exercises like the other tissues and muscles. So, to release the tension in the IT band effectively is to stretch the surrounding muscles- the quads, glutes, tensor fascia latae (a small muscle on the outside of the hip), hamstrings and calves, as well as strengthening the core and intrinsic foot muscles.
Doing this will increase flexibility in the IT band without compromising its knee stabilizing ability. The above-mentioned yoga poses are good IT band stretches as well as works on the surrounding muscles.
And that’s how you can take care of the IT band pain effectively.
Runners often struggle with multiple leg and knee injuries. Like we said, IT band syndrome is an overuse injury of the IT band tissue, which means not taking note of the mild pain along the outer side of the knee can worsen the condition and further damage the IT band.
Yoga is a holistic way to enhance your running performance. The poses or asanas help to treat running injuries, increase your body flexibility and refresh your mind and spirit. Before resorting to the IT band stretches, certain preventive measures will help you nip the IT band syndrome in the bud, such as a mild warm up walk before the run can go a long way. Wear proper running shoes that are in good condition and avoid running on concrete surfaces. Changing direction in the course of your run is advisable too.